After a very busy season of ministry, our family made a trek southward to some old haunts seeking refreshment and rejuvenation. On our way to the South Carolina coast, we decided to drop in to see the changes on the campus of the seminary I attended in Columbia, the state's capital. It was our first visit to Columbia since the early 90's. I was not prepared for the emotions that would flood in after more than 20 years away.
We experienced some sweet times in Columbia and I personally was spiritually awakened in a way that is difficult to describe in this relatively short essay. But with Luz by my side, we both were unexpectedly hit with sledgehammer force by a flood of unpleasant memories that we experienced as people of color and a culturally mixed family during the early days of our marriage in the Palmetto State. Memories of my first recurring negative encounters with law enforcement rushed in as we passed by places where memories had been made that we'd rather forget and where various negative encounters caused Luz to beg me to stop traveling alone at night. Memories of the months it took for us to find a church home where we were truly embraced as children of God and not viewed as an intrusion or a freak show. Memories of being boldly denied a merit scholarship by a historically black university because I attended a formerly segregated institution. Memories of Luz's countrymen asking her why she had married a black man and didn't she understand that blacks were at the bottom of the pecking order? Tough memories that had apparently been suppressed in the heat of battle and the necessity to function on a daily basis.
I might have sunk into a pit of despair had we not consciously remembered the ultimate price paid by 9 Americans. 9 African-Americans. 9 African-American Christians. We remembered their sacrifice, the supernatural response of love by the family members they left behind and the call of service we have felt to break down barriers ever since our Columbia experience. We remembered that we could not allow our pain to overshadow the victory of our faith and the hope we have experienced in following Christ and preaching and living in the light of His love.
With our victory in Christ in mind and His hope deeply embedded in our hearts, we welcome the changes underway in South Carolina to forgo symbols of division and to earnestly embrace the unity that should characterize American life. As one old and divisive banner is lowered and our national colors assume their unique and rightful place as our national symbol of togetherness as the UNITED States of America, let us contemplate the words of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, who said of this ground-shaking occasion,
"This moment is about more than a flag or a vote. It’s about the hope that now, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, we have grown beyond our differences and have begun to grow together. This is not the end of division, of prejudice or of hate. But it is the beginning of something new. If we can hold on to it and to each other, if we can nurture that hope and help it grow, then we will have something more precious than history. We will have a future."
"...and the Star Spangled Banner, O' long may it wave, o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"